iCame, iFilmed and iConquered the iPad

Tell me a joke” our instructor, Richard, says to the class on the first day of our iPad movie-making course.

Awkward silence. All eight participants stare at the iPads in front of us.

“Ok, I’ve got one,” I pipe up, “A magician is driving down the road, he signals, then turns into a driveway.”

More silence, then a few chuckles.

Offered by KIAC in partnership with the Yukon Technology and Innovation Centre, the goal of this course, which took place over eight days last month, was to create a two-minute film from start to finish (including editing and sound) on an iPad.

The exercise of telling a joke got us to think about what constitutes a short story, or in our case, what constitutes a two-minute film. Both jokes and two-minute films introduce a character or an idea, and both involve a punch line.

Richard asks the class what we think is a good idea for a two-minute film, jokes aside. He insists this could be anything. It could be something that made us stop and think. It could be something from our childhood. Anything.

We all stare at our iPads.

Richard offers a suggestion. He recalls an experience after just having received some terrible news: stepping outside and seeing a stray puppy, then, returning to find the stray hit by a car.

Stunned silence.

Then one of the participants, Peter, bursts out, “Potatoes!”

As we look at him quizzically, Peter explains this harvest blessed him with a bumper crop of potatoes that he was visibly quite proud of. He thinks they would be a great thing to make a film about.

We spent the majority of the eight days discussing narrative – what you can convey during a two-minute film. The answer (much to my dismay) was drama.

My limited experience with filmmaking involves making funny shorts with my friends, or music videos with ghosts. I went into the workshop with the idea of making a short mockumentary about a man born with hotdogs for eyebrows.

Richard smiled pleasantly at me when I pitched him the idea, and then explained that perhaps a two-minute film was not the best choice for telling the story of someone’s life, hot dogs or no hot dogs.

Making a movie on an iPad is just that. We were shown how to write a script, develop a storyboard, choose locations and actors, and create a shot list, all with the appropriate apps.

Watching what I was shooting on screen brought back childhood memories of pretending to be on TV behind a cardboard cut-out – definitely more awkward than holding a camera up to your eye.

Shooting with an iPad, there are restrictions. I had to be aware of where my thumb was because the lens is a tiny hole in the corner. We were instructed to physically move towards the object/person of focus because the zooming capability is very limited.

It was hard to ignore the shakiness of pan shots, as the camera person grasped the iPad between two hands and walked (although we did create a makeshift steadicam with a gadget called a “spider”).

White balance was also hard to control, although the iPad does allow for the white balance to be locked, which works if the scene is lit properly.

Sound was recorded using specially-designed microphones that clipped onto the iPad. The sound quality was not great, however, and most filmmakers had to re-record their dialogue.

Editing, using iMovie, is done with your fingertips, only allowing for scene selection. Richard’s insistence on a script and shot list became useful.

Dawson is home to many renegade filmmakers with makeshift lighting kits and jerry-rigged steadicams. So, the idea of having a crew – instructor Richard Lawrence and Dan Sokolowski – sounded luxurious. Richard and Dan lugged equipment around to the different sites, and helped light and record sound during filming.

When the films were screened at Oddfellows Hall on October 30, the quality of the product, when properly lit, was surprising.

We had a lot of community support – many of the local business such as the casino, Bombay Peggy’s, the Westminster Hotel and Bonanza Market, allowed the participants to shoot in their off-hours.

Also, the films all starred local actors. I was lucky enough to wrangle local folk hero, Aaron Burnie, into taking the lead role in my film.

What the iPad is good at is recording ideas on the fly. It’s great for pre-production – it’s compact and lightweight, and it allows filmmakers to record and make note of interesting locations or script ideas.

There is also a really cool app that lets you know if there are ghosts around.

After my initial hesitance about creating a two-minute drama on an iPad, I realized the point of this course was about the art of creating a short film, and the iPad just became a tool in that process.

For my next film, I will probably just use a camera. But I stopped worrying and learned to love like the iPad.

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